Niger Republic a country threatened by the desert that has already invaded more than two thirds of its territory, is promoting its gas to curb the savage harvest of wood, the main fuel for an overwhelming majority of inhabitants.
Giant panels at the crossroads of the capital Niamey Niger Republic, advertising to the glory of gas sung by local stars on television and on the air, door-to-door operations: the authorities do not skimp to achieve their goal.
We must “increase gas consumption” to “reverse the trend of deforestation,” recently launched Foumakoye Gado, the Minister of Energy. The awareness campaign started in 2016.
To stimulate consumers, the stoves, through state subsidies, saw their price decrease by 35%, from 23,000 to 15,000 CFA francs (from 35 to 23 euros) and the 6 kg bottles of nearly 50 %, 1,800 CFA francs instead of 3,500 (2.74 euros instead of 5.34). Further declines should be announced soon.
The companies in the sector have also negotiated with local banks “flexible terms” of borrowing for individuals to equip themselves with gas stoves, says Mahamoud Ali, director of the private company Ganigaz. It is even possible to buy one by sparing credit from your mobile phone, which can then be converted into hard currency, Ali adds.
All means are good to seduce Nigeriens, whose country produces 44,000 tons of domestic gas annually since 2011. But consumption remains marginal because of the low purchasing power of households.
Overcoming economic concerns, the main issue is ecological. “If Nigeriens were to consume all the gas produced locally, this would largely offset the environmental losses caused by logging,” said a UN expert requesting anonymity.
The goal? Promote gas rather than charcoal
Because “more than 90%” of households use only charcoal (made from wood, even though the basement contains fossil coal) to heat during the short Nigerian winter, light and cook year-round, according to Niger’s environmental services. About 200,000 tons of wood are consumed each year, “the equivalent of 100,000 hectares of forest destroyed,” alarmed Ibro Adamou, a water and forest agent.
The impact is untenable for the arid Niger, whose north is covered by the Sahara. “We are at the edge of the desert and we continue to destroy the little wood that we have left,” said Moustapha Kadi, leader of the NGO Coddae, which promotes access to energy.
Since 1990, the southern forest areas have lost “one-third” of their surface, to only represent “1% of the country,” according to the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP).
“Before we cut wood five kilometers from Niamey. Today, you have to go 200 kilometers inside neighboring Burkina Faso , “ says Hama Maïgari, a timber salesman.
For lack of trees, the desert extends ineluctably and “slowly engulfs the fertile lands” , at the moment when “the growing population needs it for agriculture” , deplores the UN expert.
The most fertile state in the world, with 7.6 children per woman, Niger should see its population triple by 2050, from 17 to 56 million people.
In this sense, arable land is a treasure trove for a country that suffers from food crises, notably due to drought and climate change, where 80% of the population lives from subsistence farming.